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Opening worship at the WCC Assembly. Picture: Paul Jeffrey/WCC
Opening worship at the WCC Assembly. Picture: Paul Jeffrey/WCC

'The Wonderful Rainbow of Ecumenical Witness'

Wednesday November 2 2022

In our final reflection on the World Council of Churches Assembly, Carol Finlay looks back on the fellowship and worship, but also the important work in keeping HIV at the heart of WCC's ministry

‘Do you remember me?’ I said cautiously as I interrupted an animated conversation between a minister and his sign language interpreter.

The minister was Rev Jonnas Owino Siang’a from Kenya. I was so delighted when he looked and his whole face lit up as he jumped up to embrace me. Jonnas had been a Faithshare visitor to the deaf churches here in the Church of Scotland some years ago when he was still working as a volunteer pastor. Now he heads the Presbyterian Church of East Africa’s deaf ministry and has 15 deaf congregations.

Jonnas and I were two of over 4000 people gathered for the World Council of Churches Assembly in Karlsruhe in Germany in September 2022. Our encounter was just one of the many instances of meeting and greeting old friends and colleagues and the opportunity of meeting with new people too. We were all part of the wonderful rainbow of ecumenical witness that is the World Council of Churches family.

The Assembly was, of course, not just an opportunity to meet in fellowship but was a time of deep spiritual reflection; discussion and decision on wide ranging topics including climate change, peace and reconciliation, HIV, Gender issues, the Middle East and even killer robots.

Not all of us were involved in the waving of red or green cards in the consensus decision making sessions, but in the many workshops and exhibitions and in the amazing worship as we sung and prayed together in the main languages of the participants. One of my favourite moments was hearing 4000 voices singing Hawaiian words to a beautiful south sea island tune…or was it a little bit Celtic?

It was also good to be with my colleagues in the WCC EAA HIV Strategy Group and to be part of the important issue keeping HIV at the heart of the WCC ministry, particularly following Covid-19 when focus has dropped from HIV research. The voices of those living with HIV was heard and particularly good was the presence of Gracia Ross, from Bolivia who is the first staff member of WCC to be openly HIV positive. Her role will help to diminish stigma which still is a major issue around the world.

Making decisions in such a broad ecumenical forum is not always easy but it is in sharing together that consensus can be reached and we can see change happening.

Life and Work is the magazine of the Church of Scotland. Subscribe here.